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Rockets pound north after strike on top Hezbollah weapons manufacturer

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What’s happened: Yesterday saw another round of conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in the north.

  • A barrage of some 30 Hezbollah rockets were fired on northern towns. Some were intercepted and others landed in open areas. No injuries resulted, though a bushfire was sparked in the Hula Valley region.
  • Hezbollah confirmed responsibility and said their target was the Northern Command military base near the city of Safed.
  • Later, a further barrage of at least five rockets was launched at the Beit Hillel area. Again, no injuries were caused, though one rocket struck near the Maayan Baruch Junction.
  • The rocket fire followed an IAF strike in Nabatieh in southern Lebanon which killed Hezbollah weapons manufacturer Muhammad Ali Nasser Faran yesterday. The IDF said “the elimination of Ali Nasser Faran is part of the IDF and Israeli security forces’ activities to impede Hezbollah’s stockpiling and build-up of weapons designated for use in attacks against Israeli civilians and communities.”
  • IDF fighter jets also struck multiple Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, including military structures in the areas of Ayta ash Shab and Rab El Thalathine, and a military structure and two Hezbollah observation posts in the area of Odaisseh.
  • Also yesterday, IDF troops apprehended two suspects adjacent to the security fence in the northern Golan Heights. The suspects were observed by IDF troops and apprehended before crossing the security fence.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu visited Israel’s Northern Command, where he received an operational briefing by its head, Maj.-Gen. Ori Gordin.
  • “We are constantly in action on the northern front,” said Netanyahu. “As of now we have eliminated hundreds of Hezbollah militants and we are still poised – even today… We have detailed, important, and even surprising plans. But I will not share these plans – which are designed to do two things, 1) to restore security to the north, and 2) to restore the residents safely to their homes – with the enemy. We are determined to achieve both of them together.”
  • Elsewhere, from the east, three drones were launched at Israel last night and in the early hours of this morning by the Iran-backed Islamic Resistance in Iraq. All were shot down by Israeli fighter jets before they were able to enter Israeli airspace, though part of an interceptor missile landed near Safed, causing a fire.

Context: Since October 7th, Hezbollah has launched near-daily multi-rocket (and sometimes missile) attacks on northern Israel, on both military posts and civilian communities.

  • 10 civilians and 14 IDF soldiers have been killed on the Israeli side, while Hezbollah, which unlike Hamas confirms the deaths of its members, has listed 312 members killed. 61 operatives from other groups, including Palestinians based in Lebanon, have also been killed.
  • The increased conflict has raised fears of all-out war between Israel and Hezbollah for the first time since the Second Lebanon War ended in 2006. The prevailing assessment, however, is that both sides have calibrated their activity to stop short of all-out war.
  • Hezbollah has maintained a threshold of violence at a level it deems will divert resources away from Gaza to the northern front, but stopping short of necessitating an immediate Israeli ground offensive.
  • In comparison with previous rounds of fighting with Israel, Hezbollah is increasingly deploying more sophisticated weaponry, including Iranian-produced Almas anti-tank guided missiles with a 10-kilometre range and the shorter range Burkan with its heavy payload. Iranian-produced Hezbollah UAVs have also been used.
  • Israel’s response to these attacks has largely been a combination of air and artillery strikes into Lebanon targeting Hezbollah’s military leadership and infrastructure. While primarily destroying targets in the south of the country, some Israeli airstrikes have been reported as far north as Baalbeck and the Beqaa Valley.
  • However, Israel views its current paradigm of 80,000 citizens being internally displaced due to Hezbollah’s aggression as untenable and intolerable. The longer they remain unable to safely return to their homes, the higher the risk of a military escalation in southern Lebanon.
  • While the US and France have spearheaded a series of diplomatic efforts to defuse this situation, they have thus far proved unsuccessful.
  • Israel continues to insist on the robust implementation of UN Resolution 1701 passed at the end of the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Most significantly, it stipulates Hezbollah forces, be pushed back as far as the Litani River ensuring Israeli civilian are out of range of Hezbollah’s accurate Kornet anti-tank missiles.
  • Any move away from the border on the part of Hezbollah fighters will need to be monitored and sustainable, since Hezbollah has a track record of initially complying with such deconfliction steps, before then moving its fighters back closer to the border.
  • The killing of Faran follows the IDF saying on Monday that it killed the commander of Hezbollah’s coastal rocket and missile unit, Qassem Saqlawi. Saqlawi was targeted in a drone strike while driving in the Tyre area in southern Lebanon, the military said.
  • The Safed military base has been a regular target for Hezbollah rockets. In February, one Israeli was killed and seven others injured in a multi-rocket attack.
  • On Monday, the IDF confirmed that three drones launched by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq were downed by fighter jets and a Sa’ar 4.5-class missile ship, according to the IDF. Iran-backed groups in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria, have claimed to have launched dozens of drones at Israel since October 7th.

Looking ahead: Fears of further rocket attacks have prompted the Knesset to pass an emergency law restricting this year’s Lag B’Omer festivities. Traditionally, somewhere in the region of 100,000 religious Israeli Jews would have made a pilgrimage to the gravesite of second-century rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in northern Israel.

  • Jewish Heritage Minister Meir Porush said: “Unlimited access would mean tens of thousands of people arriving and a terrible catastrophe could happen if the place is targeted with rockets. We must not take such risks with human lives.”
  • The pilgrimage site is located close to the Mt Meron air traffic control base, a frequent Hezbollah target. Last week, the group fired 60 rockets at the base, most of which were intercepted but with some causing minor damage.
  • The mayor of Tiberias has also ordered the closure of the tomb of Rabbi Akiva, lest pilgrims originally intending to travel to Mt Meron divert there instead